Here’s Part One of my August 2021 viewing. Part Two features a lot of “D” movies, horror, film noir, neo-noir, a Western, and Jane Russell. Let's go:
Dragnet (1954) Jack Webb (Kino Lorber Blu-ray)
I firmly believe Dragnet could’ve been something other than a routine police procedural, several levels above the television show that had been on the air for more than three years by the time this theatrical feature was released. After the killing of a local bookie (Dub Taylor), Sgt. Joe Friday (Jack Webb) and his partner Frank Smith (Ben Alexander) seek to gather information. They get what seems like a reasonable tip that hoodlums Max Troy (Stacy Harris) and Chester Davitt (Willard Sage) were connected to the bookie, but can’t get any solid evidence or much cooperation from witnesses.
This is all pretty standard stuff, but Webb and screenwriter Richard Breen (not to be confused with censor Joseph Breen) pass up an opportunity to explore police methods that border on harassment and more, which would’ve made the film quite edgy for its time. Still, it’s fun to listen to the rapid-fire banter between Webb and the people he’s grilling. I’ll probably watch this again for the Toby Roan commentary, but I was a bit disappointed with this one.
Dementia (1955) John Parker (Criterion Channel)
Dementia is not to be confused with Dementia 13, Francis Ford Coppola’s low-budget film from 1963, so no, Dementia 13 was not the twelfth sequel to Dementia. (Don’t give ‘em any ideas…) But what is this 1955 film? Film noir? Horror? Both? Neither? It’s a black-and-white dream/nightmare focusing on a young woman, played by Adrienne Barrett (in her only screen appearance) who walks the streets at night through a maze of murder, maiming, and mayhem. The film really has no plot, but that’s okay. The visuals are crude but effective. Dementia features no discernible dialogue, but rather sound effects and a weird musical score by George Anthiel. I don’t have time to cover the history of this film, but you can read more here or pick up the Region B Blu-ray from the BFI.
Dance, Girl, Dance (1940) Dorothy Arzner (Warner DVD)
After watching Dance, Girl, Dance, I immediately want to know more about Dorothy Arzner. In the film, Bubbles (Lucille Ball) Judy (Maureen O’Hara) are dancers with very different personalities: Bubbles is sassy, Judy reserved; Bubbles does burlesque shows, Judy ballet. They each have relationships (or would-be relationships) with men of varying degrees (or lack) of integrity, played by Louis Hayward and Ralph Bellamy. The film is enormously entertaining, but successfully aims at deeper themes. I look forward to revisiting this and examining more of Arzner’s work soon.
Robbery (1967) Peter Yates (Kanopy)
You could say that the chase scene in Robbery was a dress rehearsal for the more famous chase in Bullitt (1968), also directed by Peter Yates, but Robbery stands on its own and is perhaps more impressive. Stanley Baker plays Paul Clifton, a criminal who masterminds an incredibly difficult heist of cash from a government mail train traveling from Scotland to London. The film is full of tension, suspense, great chase scenes, and one of my favorite elements of any heist films, the meticulous planning. Thanks to Elric Kane from the Pure Cinema Podcast for reminding me that I need to see this film, one that had been on my watchlist for a long time. Now playing on Kanopy, Robbery is also available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber and on Region B from Network.
The Devil Commands (1941) Edward Dmytryk (Karloff at Columbia Blu-ray, Eureka, UK Region B)
What a weird movie… Boris Karloff plays, guess what? - a mad scientist, Dr. Julian Blair, who believes he has discovered the ability to read and understand brain waves. When his wife (Shirley Warde) dies in a car accident, Dr. Blair goes to insane lengths to continue his experiments, calling on the assistance of a phony medium (Anne Revere). As weird as it can be, but I loved it.
Freejack (1992) Geoff Murphy (Kanopy)
For a science fiction movie that started off fairly well, Freejack gets dumber as it goes along, and it goes along for 110 excruciating minutes. Emilio Estevez plays a race car driver who dies in a racing accident, but is “rescued” and propelled into the future where his body will be used to house a terminally ill billionaire. Interesting ideas and even a good cast (Rene Russo, Mick Jagger, Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Banks, and David Johansen) can’t rescue this one.
The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942) Lew Landers (Karloff at Columbia Blu-ray, Eureka, UK Region B)
Jeff Donnell plays Winnie Slade, a divorcee who buys an historic house in the hopes of turning it into a hotel, but the weirdo characters living there - to say nothing of the dead bodies in the cellar - make that difficult. A few laughs, mostly from Peter Lorre looking like a compressed pre-Night of the Hunter Robert Mitchum.
The Gold Rush (1925) Charlie Chaplin (The Chaplin Collection, Warner DVD)
Why did I wait so long to see this? Plus I am now hopelessly in love with Georgia Hale. A true classic everyone should see.
Sneakers (1992) Phil Alden Robinson (library DVD)
Sneakers is certainly entertaining, I’ll give it that. A group of “sneakers” can break into your company’s (hopefully) secure online facilities and determine whether or not your secrets, assets, etc., are safe. The group’s leader, Martin Bishop (Robert Redford), has a backstory, which we get at the beginning of the film, an introduction which practically shouts “This is important!” I’ll also give you a stellar cast including Sidney Poitier, Ben Kingsley, Dan Aykroyd, River Phoenix, Mary McDonnell, and David Strathairn, among others. My problem with the film is that it’s so loaded with likable characters (and actors) and often carries such a light tone, you soon realize nothing’s really at stake, or if it is, everything’s going to work out just fine. While entertaining, Sneakers is just a little too cute for my taste.
Darling (1965) John Schlesinger (Criterion Channel)
I could write an entire essay on this film, but that would require me to watch it again, which I’m not ready to do. While I appreciate the film and thought Julie Christie’s Oscar-winning performance was spectacular, her character Diana Scott is not one I’d like to revisit. Based on the opening scene, I expected Schlesinger to make more of a connecting statement at the film’s conclusion. Perhaps he did, but either it was too muddled, or I am too thick to discern it. A revisit is probably in order, but not anytime soon.
Sexy Beast (2000) Jonathan Glazer (20th Century Fox DVD) Rewatch, 3x
It’s not about the heist, it’s about the characters. Jonathan Glazer knows how to increase the pressure from simple hot temperatures to anxiety, worry, paranoia, and finally dread. Outstanding performances from everyone, especially Ben Kingsley and Ian McShane.
The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956) Raoul Walsh (Criterion Channel)
Jane Russell as a redhead is one of the few reasons to watch this all too familiar melodrama of a prostitute (Russell) seeking to get rich picking up cheap real estate in Honolulu after the devastation of Pearl Harbor. Richard Egan plays the love interest, but the best role (and performance) in the film goes to a blonde Agnes Moorehead as the madam of a brothel. After reading Christina Rice’s excellent new book Mean… Moody… Magnificent! Jane Russell and the Marketing of a Hollywood Legend, I wanted to see more of Russell’s movies. Jane deserved better than this particular film, but she’s always engaging.
The Crypt of the Vampire (1964) Camillo Mastrocinque (The Eurocrypt of Christopher Lee Blu-ray box set, Severin Films)
This wonderfully atmospheric Italian horror film, based on Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novel Carmilla, finds Count Karnstein (Christopher Lee) calling for a doctor to treat his daughter Laura (Adriana Ambesi), who he suspects is possessed by a dead ancestor named Carmilla.
The Ghoul (1933) T. Hayes Hunter (MGM DVD)
Okay, so he’s not quite a mad scientist here, but rather a mad Egyptologist. Professor Henry Morlant (Boris Karloff) is about to die, but gives specific instructions to his assistant Laing (Ernest Thesiger) on how to make sure Morlant dies with an ancient Egyptian jewel in his hand, a jewel which will resurrect him if it is offered up to the Egyptian god Anubis. But Laing gets greedy, steals the jewel, and opens the door to all sorts of shenanigans. This early Brtitish horror venture is often dismissed, but I had a great time with it, particularly getting lost in the wonderful cinematography by Günther Krampf. The film also features Cedric Hardwicke and Ralph Richardson. I watched it on an MGM DVD which looks pretty good, but the UK company Network released a Blu-ray that I’m going to pick up soon.
Arizona Legion (1939) David Howard (Warner Bros. George O’Brien Western Collection 1938-1940 DVD MOD set)
It’s been over a year since I watched my first George O’Brien B-Western, and it was fun returning to view another one. In Arizona Legion, cattle rancher Boone Yeager (O’Brien) decides to join a gang of outlaws, devoting himself to a life of crime. Boone’s fiancé Letty (Laraine Day, credited as Laraine Johnson) can’t understand why, but what she doesn’t know is Boone has infiltrated the gang in order to bring them down from within. A good B-Western with comic relief from a young Chill Wills and a pre-Frankenstein Glenn Strange. For more, check out this review from Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings.
Combined with Part One, that’s my August. Let me know what you watched.